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The Cinderella Complex Undone; the field positioning of higher education studies and scholars – a feminist reinterpretation Professor Valerie Hey Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER) University of Sussex, UK (

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The Cinderella Complex Undone; the field positioning of higher education studies and scholars – a feminist reinterpretation Professor Valerie Hey

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The Cinderella Complex Undone; the field positioning of higher education studies and scholars – a feminist reinterpretation

Professor Valerie Hey

Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER)

University of Sussex, UK


Homo Academicus & His Theory ?

Feminist de/tours amongst the hegemony in the field of Higher Education Studies

Difficult trick is to decline the fixed location of the margin in order to speak ‘authoritatively’.

  • To perform ‘a different division of the sensible’ (Ranciere,cited in Dillon, 2005:432) )

Counting The Masters of the HE Universe

Formal =

Editors of influential HE Journals viz.

Studies in HE

Higher Education Policy

Higher Education, Management & Policy

Higher Education Quarterly

Plenaries +

Informal = ‘voices’ cited in THES

The Ignored or Invisible Woman?

‘An Extraordinary Gentleman ‘ (Editorial in a top journal in Higher Education – 2007)

Let me finally address a third quality. (name of retiring editor) is an extraordinary gentleman. As an editor he treated all those that submitted articles to (name of journal) gentlemanlike: encouraging those that needed support and critically approaching those that would be able to cope with high-level scholarly criticism. I am tempted to pursue the analogue with the leader of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Allan Quatermain — in the 2003 movie …, given the Scottish background of the actor playing the role of Quatermain, as well as for the actor’s grey beard…. And, admitted, there is a danger to take the analogue too literally. One may wonder about Quatermain’s illustrious fellow Extraordinary Gentlemen: who would be the Dr Jekyll (and Mr Hyde) of higher education research? One may ponder about the identity of the invisible man in higher education policy. And who would be the Dorian Gray; the forever young scholar of higher education? Suffice to say, that (name of retiring editor) has much in common with Allan Quatermain, the main character of Rider Haggard' story of King Solomon’s Mines.’

Male Melancholia ?


Discourse of lack and loss in field of HE studies in terms of





Male Melancholic Representations of the Field 1

‘Within universities, higher education is not a highly-regarded subject area…The RAE is responsible for its low status because it tends to denigrate the practice-based disciplines…so higher education is a bit of a Cinderella within a Cinderella’

(Roger Brown, THES January 8th 2009)

‘That the school was closed down shows you where the fields of education in general, and higher education in particular rank in the hierarchy of the disciplines – typically at the bottom, maybe a bit above nursing or library studies’

(Philip Altbach on the closure of the School of Education at The University of Chicago THES 8th January 2009)

Male Melancholic Representations of the Field 2

Male Melancholic Representations of the Field 3

  • ‘In my view you folks have a lost generation or two. There are giants in the field such as Maurice Kogan, Tony Becher, Gareth Williams, Oliver Fulton, Mary Henkel, to name a few but they are all quite senior. And frankly, you don’t have a large stock of younger scholars coming up’

    (Gary Rhoades Outgoing Head of Centre for the Study of HE, University

    of Arizona THES 8th January 2009)

Melancholic Representations of the Field 4

  • Narrowness of the field

  • Lack of high-level theoretical studies

  • Not theoretically ambitious

  • Intellectually parochial

    (Ron Barnett, THES January 8th 2009)

Feminist (Cheerful Jouissance?

Skeggs (2008) on feminist sociology and social theory

Optimism, Attrition and contestation

Powerful knowledge and powerful narratives

Need performatives as vital languages

Confident dispersal and congealing too

An Unstable Field of Higher Education Knowledge

The Cinderella Amongst Cinderellas

Does the mournful performative (potentially) queer hegemonic masculine academic identity?

Or is this merely a strong case of positional adjustment amongst ‘the dominated amongst the dominants’

(Bourdieu, 1996, )

Feminist Passionate Subjects & Passionate Attachments

‘How is it, as academics, that we are able to recognize ourselves and be recognized as doing work that is of value? Where do the terms of recognition come from? They pre-exist us, they determine us, and we breathe life into them by living and working within their terms. We are caught, I would suggest, in a complex ambivalence between, on the one hand, taking ourselves up in familiar and already recognizable terms, and on the other, engaging in work through which the terms of recognition themselves might be reworked.’

(Bronwyn Davies, 2006;31 (4) :508)

Rock and a Hard place? Patrilineal ignorance and/or misogyny

The unacknowledged discursive closures and foreclosure

The privileged focus on the public of and as policy

The naturalisation of what is important – mimesis of other’s regulative agendas

Deconstruction or desiring differently?

On making a different space of desire

What does feminist theory offer that women (might) want?

Reflexive Resources




The Need to deface the field ?

Reminders of successful example de/facement viz. Cultural Studies

Hall talks of the reconstruction enacted by feminism as :

‘ a thief in the night, it broke in, interrupted, made an unseemly noise, seized the time, crapped on the table of cultural studies’

(Hall, 1992:282)

  • We cannot suffer the loss of things we never inherited?

Some Possible Performatives and Some Performatives of Possibility

Higher Education Some sociological theoretical points of departure

  • Re-imagining Equity – resources from outside a narrow Anglo-American Gaze – necessarily intersectional analysis – difference as jigsaw not see saw – Louise Morley & Kattie Lussier and colleagues engaged in considering the multiple levels of the political and educational as sites for the production of in/equity

  • Re-imagining Higher Education as an Affective Realm – with a commitment to thinking in a decentred way so as to recentre perhaps in different divisions of the sensible – for example thinking with/in the triplet desire, affects and emotion and their various conceptual logics which sculpt out what we might mean by consciousness and its complexities – this insight opens up the realm of people’s attachments, investments to their own selves and its current formation – their values, their knowledge – not as psycho-therapeutic discourse but to consider a number of problematics :

Need a Vocabulary of Alternative Aspirations

Affinities and Staying Put - Counters the deficit model – local affinities and commitments – Sarah Evan’s recent PhD on working class girls in London – cleverness and communities

Aspirations are multiple not singular

HE vocabulary mono-logical – effaces the body, the (potentialities) of reproduction, caring, ageing, the pleasures and pains of bodies – curricular and routes through HE for bodies are daunting

The Affective - Psycho-social Analytic Vocabulary Example 1

Claudia Lapping’s work offers a productive way to think gender as change and continuity recognising them as acting at different levels of the social practice (i.e. women’s increased presence in the academy) and their persistent psychic subjectification under the law of the Symbolic Order - her ethnographic observations in HE seminar & lecture rooms – focus on how authority in the academy is done and undone in relation to both students and staff. Eclectic mix of Lacan, Bourdieu, Bernstein and post-Lacanian work e.g.. Laclau and Mouffe and Zizek.

Speaks to Lois McNay’s criticism of Bourdieu’s habitus as insufficiently sensitive to the deep recesses where gendered (hetero)sexuality is re/inscribed and to Bernstein’s relentless presumptive discourse of ‘mastery’ directing educational research to focus on ‘a problem and its vicissitudes’ as if this could be done outside gender.

Lapping on her own logic

Psychoanalytically informed feminist theory struggles to find a political strategy that destabilises gender hierarchies, but that does not embrace an impossible outside of language and the law (Kristeva, 1986a,b; Rose, 1986; Butler, 1993, 2000). Luce Irigaray and Lois McNay both criticise Lacanian approaches as leaving no space between language, subjectivity and the social

Both, in quite different ways, reconceptualise the disjunctures between sensuous, bodily experience and the symbolic realm as a more radical, creative ‘imaginary’, offering possibilities for a positive reconfiguration of gender (Irigaray, 1985, 1993; Whitford, 1991; McNay, 2000). Kristeva’s conceptualisation of the ‘semiotic’ is also sometimes presented in this way, as a potential strategic space for the radical subversion of linguistic structures.

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